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Community support of police on the mend, officers say

As a homicide detective, Julissa Trapp has witnessed many heartbreaking events during her career.

But none of those events prepared her for the disappointment of watching protesters hurl rocks, bottles and accusations of racism at her, her colleagues and her police department.

During the past two months, however, the tone on the streets has changed, she said. The only sentiment she hears today is gratitude.

“Several citizens have approached me and thanked me for what I do,” she said.

Like several current Anaheim officers, Trapp, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, was born and raised in Anaheim, and she recently bought a home in the city. Her first brush with the department came via the Explorer program, which offers young people an opportunity to work with police officers.

Sgt. Pena


Cost-effective, inspirational and vital to community policing efforts, the program formally known as the Law Enforcement Career Exploring program is designed for high school and college volunteers ages 14-21 – and many recruits come from some of Anaheim’s toughest neighborhoods.

The program has had its own share of success. Approximately 33,000 teens participate in Explorers nationally each year and currently 25 former Anaheim Explorers are either in the police academy or are officers.

“The program is one of the key examples of community oriented policing,” says officer Jonathan Nooitgedagt, who runs the Explorer class. “By bringing qualified and interested youth into the program from all walks of life, we guide the Explorers to build in character and enrich the community.”

In tight fiscal times, the program also has been a boost to the local budget. By utilizing Explorers at certain events, Anaheim has saved money on personnel. However, not all become police officers, Nooitgedagt said. Many go off to law or businesses of their own.

Two examples of the program’s success are Trapp and Steve Pena. As teens growing up in the city, each became certain they wanted to be police officers and what they gained in the program was something they simply wouldn’t have found elsewhere.

“In high school, they tell you drugs are bad for you,” said Pena, a patrol sergeant. “As an Explorer, I talked to drug addicts and saw firsthand how illegal drugs destroy people’s lives.”

Trapp found the detailed preparation invaluable. “My first week at the police academy was so much easier because I was already accustomed to inspections and the mental game.”

Brian Hayes, former Chief Randy Gaston, Chris Foglesong and Pena when he was an explorer

While Trapp said the friendships and “special bond” she made with other Explorers was her favorite part of the program, Pena loved the ride-alongs.

Though July’s shooting and the protests that followed dismay both officers, Trapp and Pena have their own unique and valuable perspective.

“I have worked in some of the most violent neighborhoods in Anaheim and have found most residents to be law-abiding with hopes and dreams similar to me,” Pena said.

Both believe the violent reaction was created by only a few – including some non-residents of the city – and hope the independent investigations will allow everyone to move forward. “Since the initial protests, I feel the events have brought our community and our department closer together,” Pena said.  “More residents are speaking out in support of our police department than ever before in my career.”

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